Celebrating sisters

I just got back to New Jersey last night from a fabulous weekend trip to Atlanta and points south for some pre-wedding celebrations with my sisters. Grace is getting married next week! I flew down Wednesday and Grace picked me up at the airport. The four of  us piled into Joy’s car, turned the air-conditioner on High and drove south through Alabama to a cottage on the Gulf coast.

It’s high summer in the South and produce stands are burgeoning along the highways. I find it nearly impossible to ignore a hand-lettered sign on the roadside offering watermelons or corn (picked today!) or peaches, but add “hot-boiled peanuts” to the signs and it’s like the car drives itself off onto the dirt verge and stops in front of the stand of its own volition. We got a watermelon, a bag of tomatoes, a bag of boiled peanuts, and a half sack of peaches. The gentleman who sold them to us said that the only problem was we’d wish we’d bought a whole sack. He had photos on the stand of the project his produce was funding – corrugated metal homes in Guatemala. When he asked is we were going to the beach, we said yes, to celebrate our sister’s upcoming wedding, and he said to Grace, “Well, I’ll give you some of my wife’s peach cake for a wedding present.” Moist yellow cake with nuggets of tangy Alabama peaches; pretty sweet wedding gift if you ask me! The cake and peanuts were fallen upon like a swarm of locusts.

The next couple of days went by too fast, sitting on the dock at night watching the lightning out over the Gulf and shooting stars overhead and talking, catching up on our lives, floating around in the blissfully warm buoyant Gulf water, getting a little sunburned, eating watermelon on the dock and spitting the seeds into the water, laughing, watching the fish and porpoises and shrimp boats and barges on the Intercoastal Waterway.  When the beach got a little too hot, we went shopping and found a sophisticated blue dress for Michal, who looked incredibly beautiful and also impossibly grown-up in it. We cooked together in the evenings, grilling corn and steaks which we ate with blue cheese butter and juicy wedges of  tomato, and made ceviche, fresh and cold with chunks of mango and avocado on crisp tostadas after that hot day at the beach.

Friday evening, we headed back through a couple of rainstorms which left the air feeling as if it had already been breathed. This humidity is taking some getting used to. I felt like I was submerged in water, even when I wasn’t. After the rain, the air had that soft, fragrant quality that I think of as so evocative of the South I grew up in. I think back, thinking about  the girls when they were my “little” sisters, and am so happy to have had this time to spend with the truly lovely women they have all become. I’m looking forward to this weekend, the wedding, spending more time with my family, grabbing a few more of these great, fun moments as they whip by.

Bay Ceviche

6 white fish filets, minced

or

1 pound bay scallops, quartered

1 tomato, diced

1 avocado, diced

1/2 large red onion, minced small

1 jalapeno pepper, minced small

1 mango, diced

about 1/2 bunch of cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

juice of 3-4 limes

Goya Bitter Orange seasoning to taste

or a splash of orange juice and salt to taste

Mix everything together in a glass bowl once everything is cut up and prepped. Toss to saturate with the lime juice. I lightly dusted the top of the bowl with the seasoning, mixed it in, and then tasted and added a little more just before serving. After everything is mixed, allow it to sit for at least 1/2 hour until the seafood looks white and opaque- which means it is “cooked”. Serve on crisp tostadas with a splash of Tapatio sauce.

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Alma’s ceviche

My neighbor Alma sent her son across the way with a container of  her ceviche, a bag of tostadas, and a bottle of Tapatio sauce for us to eat while we pack. She had made a big batch for a July 4th picnic she and her family went to at a park in Antioch. We ate it from plates on our laps, stopping for a few minutes from the ceaseless rush of last minute tasks to what may have been the perfect meal for the occasion.

It was bright and tangy and chewy and soft and crisp and spicy. It was, of course, cold, which is ideal for a hot July afternoon. It had a couple of tantalizing notes of flavor that didn’t immediately come forward and introduce themselves, but just a hint of intrigue to keep the tongue guessing. The crispy tostadas and hot sauce made it a completely balanced in flavor and texture.

The other thing that I really noticed was the careful attention to preparation which made each element become a part of the whole dish without either dominating the flavor of the whole or disappearing into a mush. The onion was minced just so, the tomato was diced large enough to give a distinct sweet flavor, and the cilantro leaves were beautifully ribboned into the whole, bright green and fresh. It was a carefully made dish, the ability of the cook apparent in the beautiful balance of flavor and texture.

When I went to thank her, Alma told me how she makes her ceviche and said she’d write the recipe down for me. I hope I have time to get it before I leave; I know Scott would love to have it again. He ate four tostadas with a teetering mound of ceviche on each for lunch and asked me to get the recipe at least that many times. It was a kind and thoughtful parting gift. Thanks, Alma.

Alma’s Ceviche

6 tilapia filets minced
1 tomato, diced
1/2 large red onion, minced small
1 jalapeno pepper, minced small
about 1/2 bunch of cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
juice of 2-3 lemons
Goya Adobo with Bitter Orange seasoning to taste

Mix everything together once everything is prepped. I lightly covered the top of the bowl with the seasoning, mixed it in, and then tasted and added a little more just before serving. After everything is mixed, allow it to sit for at least 1/2 hour until the fish looks white and opaque- which means it is “cooked”. Serve on tostadas with Tapatio sauce.